Sjogrens disease is named after the Swedish doctor who discovered a form of arthritis with dryness of the eyes and mouth 100 years ago. The dryness is due to the immune system attacking the moisture producing glands like the tear and saliva glands, and it can also affect the nose, throat, skin and vagina. Besides attacking the joints and causing arthritis, it also can attack the blood vessels, lungs, liver, kidneys and nerves.
Usually the first problem is difficulty eating dry foods or dental problems, and in the eyes it can be an irritation or gritty feeling. Half the patients with this already have some other autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Blood tests can support the diagnosis, but sometimes a biopsy of the inner lip is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for dryness can include plugging the lower eyelid tear ducts or using Restasis eye drops for the inflammation. Frequently sipping water and using Evoxac or Salagen can minimize dryness of the mouth. Good dental hygiene and regular cleanings can preserve the teeth and medications for fungal infections or acid reflux may be needed.
Treatment for the disease includes Plaquinel, low dose corticosteroids, Methotrexate, Imuran, Cellcept, Rituxan, or Cytoxan. The vast majority of Sjogrens patients remain very healthy and without serious complications. Complications include lung problems that seem like pneumonia, worsening liver and kidney function, skin rashes of the small blood vessels, and nerve damage. Sjogrens may be associated with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph glands. The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation www.sjogrens.org is available for more information.